A big smile spread across 9-year-old Cante Long Soldier’s face Tuesday afternoon as she held the brand-new pair of white and purple Nike tennis shoes she had just unwrapped.
The third-grader at Pine Ridge Elementary School sat in amazement at the unexpected gift from the general contractor in charge of building the town’s justice center as her schoolmates assembled in the school’s gymnasium shared peeks at similar presents sitting on their laps.
“I like pink and purple,” said Cante, who guessed the Nikes were probably the nicest pair of shoes she’s ever owned.
Like Cante, every student at Pine Ridge Elementary School took home a new pair of shoes on Tuesday provided by Milender White Construction Co. and its subcontractors, according to Adam Mack, the vice president and operations manager for the Arvada, Colo.-based construction company.
Milender White is overseeing construction of the $31 million Pine Ridge Justice Center going up on the southern edge of town, and on Wednesday, some of its members donned Santa hats to pass out 435 brightly wrapped shoe boxes to students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade.
Mack said the gift giving is a part of his company’s mission to give back to the community they have been working in since they broke ground in June on the 93,000-square-foot building.
“I can’t think of a better way to do that than with the kids in the community,” said Mack, as he waited for the older students to file into the gymnasium with green and red sprinkled cookies and juice boxes. The younger classes had just received their shoes and goodie bags with great enthusiasm before heading back to class.
“It was just fantastic,” Mack said.
Mack was not alone in his thoughts on the holiday party that featured Santa Claus. Eighth-grader Jonathan Dreamer, 14, said he enjoyed the program and his new pair of brown Starter tennis shoes.
“I got new shoes and I didn’t have to buy them,” said Jonathan, wearing a red bow on his head that came from his Christmas gift. “They brought a Native town some shoes. Those guys are some good people.”
Milender White's Tribal Employment Rights Ordinance coordinator Tracy Hauff and Colleen Brave, the company's director of diversity and Native American affairs, were key in organizing the event.
Planning began four weeks ago with a visit to the school to meet the students and get their shoe sizes, Brave said. The company reached out to their subcontractors on the justice center for shoes and donations, Hauff said. Local subcontrators who participated include Kurtz Construction, Scull Construction, Action Mechanical, Double H Masonry, Sperlich Consulting, North Central Supply, Western States Fire Protection, Murdock Electric, Doug O'Bryan Contracting, Sod's Mechanical and First Gold Hotel & Casino.
The Christmas party at the school was not Milender White's first charitable event since construction on the project began, but it is their biggest to date, Mack said.
The company has also donated $10,000 to a charity that works on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and plans to work with the construction-management students from Oglala Lakota College along with other projects until the center is completed.
Currently, the project is 25 percent complete with an expected finish date of spring 2014. The center will house courtrooms, attorney and judges chambers, police station, juvenile and adult temporary detention centers and administrative offices.
[Editor's note: This story has been edited to reflect the correct day it took place.]